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Try These Desk Exercises to Stay Active at Work


If you get up from your desk after a long day of work and feel stiff, sore, and uncomfortable, you’re not alone. Millions of people work desk jobs that require long periods in a seated position—and that’s on top of all the other sitting we do like when watching TV, eating dinner, or driving.

But of course, you cycle after work, so you are being active—that should counterbalance all the inactivity, right?

While yes, you do get your heart rate up and work your muscles while you cycle, but your body stays in that same seated position on the bike. That means the aches and pains you get while seated at your desk (lower back pain, for example), can also translate right into your post-work activity.

In fact, a systematic review of eight studies, published in the journal Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach in 2016, found that imbalances in spinal and core muscles when cycling led to overuse injuries in the lower back, thanks mainly to that forward-leaning posture. So, even though you’re staying active, you’re doing so in a position that replicates how you sit at your desk, and so you suffer the same fate.

The antidote to some of those aches: desk exercises that help you break up the day with more movement, stretching out tight spots and activating muscles like your core and legs.

To get you out of your chair more and moving those muscles, Whitney Biaggi, certified personal trainer, fitness instructor, and desk break extraordinaire, shares the the best desk exercises to do every day. Plus, she explains why it’s so important for cyclists stand up and simply move more.

Why is sitting all day bad for you?

“Humans weren’t designed to be sitting for multiple hours a day, every day,” says Biaggi.

Research shows why: A study in the Journal of Lifestyle Medicine examined over 400 office workers who sat for an average of 6.29 hours at work, finding that a majority suffered from exhaustion, as well as neck, shoulder, and lower back pain.

What’s more: Cyclists who want to perform well on the road (and without aches and pains), sitting in one static position causes muscle imbalances and weaknesses that can derail performance, says Biaggi. This increases risk of injury, whether in the saddle or out of it. For example, sitting most of the day, particularly with poor posture, can lead to a weak core, tight hips, and weak glutes. This can then cause those knee or back issues.

Sedentary time can have serious consequences on our overall health, too, not just our musculoskeletal system. A large cohort study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2018 found an association between prolonged sitting (which they define as more than six hours a day, compared to less than three hours per day) and an increased risk of death from all causes, including heart disease, diabetes, suicide, Alzheimer’s disease, and more.

The detriments even go beyond the physical. A study in Mental Health and Physical Activity found that men who worked sitting down for more than six hours per day experienced moderate psychological distress, while women experienced moderate to high psychological distress. These outcomes were completely independent of how often the participants exercised.

Bottom line? Sitting all day isn’t great for you, mentally or physically. Going out for one long ride every day might not offset the damage, either. So what’s the solution? Move more, more often.

How can you break up the day with exercise?

At the base level, Biaggi says finding little ways to move around can be beneficial. The goal is to get more total movement in throughout the day, not just in one sweat session. She suggests getting up to move around every 30 minutes to an hour, whether its to get a glass of water or go talk to a coworker—or do some desk exercises.

“We don’t need to be doing 45 minutes of crazy, sweaty workouts all the time,” Biaggi says. “Just integrating some forms of movement into the day can help to counteract some of these negative side effects that might happen.”

Research even says you don’t need more than 10 minutes of activity throughout the day to see benefits. In a study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion in 2013, researchers compared the health outcomes of those who engaged in frequent physical activity of less than 10 minutes to those who engaged in physical activity for more than 10 minutes and found similar positive effects for metabolic health.

Why are desk breaks important for cyclists, specifically?

As mentioned, when you’re cycling, even though you’re active and moving your muscles, you’re still maintaining a seated position. So you still risk the same aches, pains, and injuries. Ali Cook Jackson, a certified personal trainer and Ironman athlete, believes that taking a little bit of time to exercise throughout the day is critical for injury prevention.

“For cyclists to avoid that static motion of your joints and muscles, you want to keep moving them as much as possible so that they’re strong when you’re sitting and in that cycling position,” she says.


8 Desk Exercises to Do Every Day

Biaggi says that a successful desk exercise will do all three of the following:

  • Get the blood flowing
  • Increase mobility
  • Work muscles not activated in a seated position

In case you’re wary to check all those boxes when you’re in the office, we split Biaggi’s suggestions into what to do when you’re at work versus working from home. That way, you don’t have to worry about making a big scene when you’re around coworkers. Keep in mind, these moves don’t have to be complicated and they certainly don’t need to take up much time. The goal is to simply move more, more often and get your body moving in ways it doesn’t get to when you’re seated at a desk.

Biaggi recommends doing the following exercises at least once a day, but the more often, the more beneficial. Follow the reps below and repeat for as many sets as you have time.

In the office

Stairs

The best way to get the legs moving and fire up those glutes and calves? Walk the stairs. Find a quiet staircase in your office and walk up and down as many times as your schedule allows.

Seated Lat Pull Down

Start seated, shoulders over hips, feet planted, knees bent 90 degrees. Reach arms up overhead, biceps by ears. Pull elbows back and down by sides, forming a cactus shape with arms. The key is to engage the back muscles as you pull arms down (targeting the latissimus dorsi) and keep chest tall, spine straight. Reach arms back up overhead. Repeat for 10 reps.

Seated Pigeon

Place your left ankle on your right thigh, feet flexed. Sit up tall, then lean forward, keeping your back straight. You should feel a stretch in your left hip. Hold for a few seconds. Then sit back up straight. Repeat for 10 reps. Then switch sides.

Standing Hip Flexor Stretch

Stand with right foot in front of left, about three to four steps apart. Engage your core and tuck your pelvis slightly forward. Squeeze the left glute. Keep back straight as you bend into both knees until you feel it in your left hip flexor. (Don’t feel it? Tuck pelvis forward more and really squeeze the abs and glutes.) Hold for a few seconds. Then release. Repeat for 10 reps. Then switch sides.

At home

Good Morning

Stand up with feet hip-width apart, hands behind your head. Bend knees slightly and hinge at the hips, sending butt straight back, until you feel it in your hamstrings. Keep your back straight. Drive feet into floor to stand back up. Repeat for 10 reps.

Squat

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Holds arms out straight in front of you, at shoulder height. Send your hips down and back as if sitting in a chair until your legs are at a 90-degree angle. Do not let your knees come over your toes or buckle inward. Drive feet into floor to stand back up. Repeat for 10 reps.

Lunge

Stand with feet hip-width apart. Engage your core and take a big step backward with left foot to hit a lunge position, bending both knees 90 degrees, with front right knee tracking over toes. Push off front right foot to stand back up. Repeat with right foot stepping back. Continue alternating for 10 reps per side.

Jumping Jack

Start standing with feet together. Jump your feet wide while bringing arms out to the sides and up overhead. Then, jump to bring feet back together and return arms down to sides. Repeat for 30 seconds.




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